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Analysis & Opinion
10.10.08 Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: Medvedev's War On Corruption
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Stephen Blank, Ethan Burger

For two years, government officials will be banned from taking lucrative positions in private companies operating in sectors they helped regulate at their previous posts (the ban, however, could be lifted if the official's superiors agree to his taking a private sector job in the regulated industry). More transparent procedures for the electronic handling of government documents and for holding government tenders are also part of the package. Heavy criminal penalties have also been introduced for those officials found guilty of corruption.

Right after his inauguration, Medvedev declared fighting corruption one of his top political priorities ("fighting legal nihilism" was the term he used) and set up a powerful anti-corruption committee with sweeping powers.
The war with Georgia distracted Medvedev from his anti-corruption agenda, but as soon as the dust settled, he renewed his push for a cleaner Russian government. Critics, however, claim that his plan is doomed to failure. A prominent anti-corruption expert Georgy Satarov said that "Tightening control over state officials, in accordance with their plans, will be carried out by the officials themselves. Thus, some corrupt people will control others, or new controlling structures would have to be created above these controlling structures and they will control how others control."

Oleg Mitvol, the deputy head of the Rosprirodnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision in Environmental Management), noted that "Well-dressed officials who did not have official incomes before joining the civil service—with yachts and cars—sit and discuss what budgets from state funds will be allocated for research into the sphere of corruption."
Will Medvedev succeed in rooting out corruption in Russia? Or is his plan doomed, as the critics suppose? Is the chosen approach correct? Will new disclosure rules and income controls help eliminate the graft? How will Russian society react to Medvedev's anti-corruption drive? What lessons could Russia draw from Western anti-corruption measures?

Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center & Scholar-in-Residence, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.:

At the outset, one should recognize that corruption exists in all countries and most efforts to eradicate it have failed. I have lost count of the number of times Russian (and Soviet) leaders have called for eliminating corruption.
Corruption is a highly complex phenomenon, as was demonstrated when the negotiators for the UN Convention on Corruption could not agree on how to define it (though it is most commonly understood as using a state position for personal gain). Some characteristics commonly associated with corruption include:

1) In parts of the world (Africa during the 1960s and 1970s being the paradigm), it may serve as a pretext to justify extra-legal government change.
2) The forms it takes usually depend on the relevant country's level of economic and political development (e.g. collecting bribes, profiting from insider information, using state bodies to seize the property of others or to preserve political power, etc.) and public attitude toward corruption, if hostile, can limit its scope.
3) Corruption can operate as a tax—that is it increases the costs of goods and services.
4) Corruption can be so widespread that it precludes governments from providing the goods and services that the population requires: quality housing, education, medical care, etc., which under certain circumstances will cause the government to lose power.

There is no statute of limitations for murderers. When corruption is so pervasive that it falls into the fourth category, it can be thought of as the equivalent of murder by increasing infant mortality, shortening life spans, etc. If this view were to become more commonplace, the most extreme forms of corruption would decrease.

It is difficult not to be cynical or at least skeptical about efforts to combat corruption in contemporary Russia. Nonetheless, it seems that the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian specialists today have a greater appreciation of its economic and socially corrosive impact on the population than state officials did in the past. This provides a glimmer of hope that Medvedev may actually have the will to improve the situation in the country (within limits).

I have never heard individuals defend their own major corrupt acts. While one cannot legally enforce morality, the more the public is aware of the corrupt acts of individuals, the more vulnerable the latter become. It is possible to devise systems that reduce the likelihood and the consequences of corruption, which ultimately may make those who profited from corruption to be made criminally liable for it, provided that Medvedev can find political allies for his efforts. The most important features of a successful anti-corruption program are remarkably simple.

There must be a separation of power within the governing body. There need not be three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial). There must be a judiciary that is independent, with adequate personal and material resources allowing it to function. Its decisions, as should all laws and regulations (with the exception of some in the national security and privacy areas), be publicly and widely available, and a country's citizenry and state officials must respect them.

Within all executive bodies, in addition to people performing operative functions, there should be individuals who are solely responsible for compliance—ensuring that the laws and regulations are followed. These two categories of people should have little or no contact with each other.

Citizens must enjoy an inviolable set of rights, including the right to freedom of speech and to own property, and they should be educated legally as to what their rights are.

All government officials should be publicly held accountable for their actions and subject to removal from their positions (or even criminal prosecution for violating laws). When this occurs, it should be publicized. Ill-gotten gains should be forfeited.

The decision-making process in the government should be as transparent as is reasonably possible.
The government must exist on different levels -- national, regional and local, with their authority clearly delineated, though there are some benefits if there is some overlap.

There should be a professional civil service that is not politicized and whose members retain their positions and get promoted if competent.

An active civil society (including independent media and active Internet use) must exist.

There should be both private and public universities. Public officials should be obligated to submit net worth statements on a regular basis for themselves and for their families. This information should be publicly available and analyzed by tax authorities.

Medvedev's anti-corruption program, released on July 31, contains many provisions that are consistent with the above concepts. I not only hope that they find their way into legislation that is adopted, but that the institutions meant to enforce them evolve and get sufficient funding.

Ultimately, the critical issue for Russia is whether certain persons will be regarded as above the law by law enforcement authorities and other government personnel. The uneven distribution of wealth in Russia suggests that politically-connected individuals have been allowed to acquire immunity from prosecution or even investigation. Unless the situation changes, Medvedev's efforts, even if genuine, will not succeed.

Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

Apart from the reasons given above, it is unlikely that this plan can succeed. The reasons are simple. Firstly, there is no accountability to the law in Medvedev's Russia, and until he is made accountable, all efforts to subordinate others to the law will fail. Secondly, as long as Russia remains a medieval state where power is property and vice versa, corruption will flourish in the absence of any rule of law. It is not surprising that in tsarist Russia, Soviet Russia, and today we find the phenomenon of "patron-client relationships," or what the Soviets called "family circles," and that corruption of the governing apparatus is likewise a problem that has existed from time immemorial. One needs to break with the tradition of "kormlenie" ("feeding"), the notion that the population exists to feed officials and that they need not be held accountable to anyone for what they do. While corruption is present everywhere and we have plenty of it here too, in Russia it is built into the system, and the great myth that by tightening controls on officials you will root out malfeasance and bad behavior still lives because nobody is willing to trust the law and be bound by it.
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